Grant

Grant

Book - 2017
Average Rating:
5
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"Pulitzer Prize-winner and biographer of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and John D. Rockefeller, Ron Chernow returns with a sweeping and dramatic portrait of one of our most complicated generals and presidents, Ulysses S. Grant Ulysses S. Grant's life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and inept businessman, fond of drinking to excess; or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War; or as a credulous and hapless president whose tenure came to symbolize the worst excesses of the Gilded Age. These stereotypes don't come close to capturing adequately his spirit and the sheer magnitude of his monumental accomplishments. A biographer at the height of his powers, Chernow has produced a portrait of Grant that is a masterpiece, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency"--
"Ulysses S. Grant's life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and inept businessman, or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War. But these stereotypes don't come close to capturing him, as Ron Chernow shows in his masterful biography, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency. Before the Civil War, Grant was flailing. His business ventures had ended dismally, and despite distinguished service in the Mexican War, he ended up resigning from the army in disgrace amid recurring accusations of drunkenness. But in war, Grant began to realize his remarkable potential, soaring through the ranks of the Union army, prevailing at the Battle of Shiloh and in the Vicksburg campaign, and ultimately defeating the legendary Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Along the way, Grant endeared himself to President Lincoln and became his most trusted general and the strategic genius of the war effort. Grant's military fame translated into a two-term presidency, but one plagued by corruption scandals involving his closest staff members. More important, he sought freedom and justice for black Americans, working to crush the Ku Klux Klan and earning the admiration of Frederick Douglass, who called him 'the vigilant, firm, impartial, and wise protector of my race.' After Grant's presidency, he was again brought low by a dashing young swindler on Wall Street, only to resuscitate his image by working with Mark Twain to publish his memoirs, which are recognized as a masterpiece of the genre. With lucidity, breadth, and meticulousness, Chernow finds the threads that bind these disparate stories together, shedding new light on the man whom Walt Whitman described as 'nothing heroic... and yet the greatest hero.' Chernow's probing portrait of Grant's lifelong struggle with alcoholism transforms our understanding of the man at the deepest level. This is America's greatest biographer, bringing movingly to life one of our finest but most underappreciated presidents. The definitive biography, Grant is a grand synthesis of painstaking research and literary brilliance that makes sense of all sides of Grant's life, explaining how this simple midwesterner could at once be so ordinary and so extraordinary."--Jacket.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2017
ISBN: 9781594204876
159420487X
Branch Call Number: B G7677C 2017
Characteristics: xxiii, 1074 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm

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p
pokano
Jan 10, 2018

I gave White's biography of Grant 5 stars. That was before I read Ron Chernow's epic work (959 pages not including notes and acknowledgments). If you read only one book about Grant, read Chernow's. Never, ever boring, the book is rich in painting a vivid picture of this much celebrated general and even more maligned president, whose stock has been rising in recent years: since 2000 he's risen in a historians' poll from number 33 to number 22 of the 44 men who have held the office (Trump isn't being rated yet).

Yes, there was corruption--but Grant himself was never involved. Chernow writes that Grant had such trust in his friends and family that he simply could not envision them doing anything bad. This, of course, left him as an easy mark, which he paid dearly for near the end of his life, when his family's entire savings were lost in a Ponzi scheme run by a trusted advisor.

The corruption has, until recently, masked over Grant's contributions to those who needed help. He supported the 15th Amendment and early voting rights and civil rights legislation, sent federal troops into the South during Reconstruction to protect Republicans from widespread violence (Republicans in the South back then were mainly black with some whites), destroyed the original Ku Klux Klan, had a far more progressive attitude to Native Americans than almost anyone in government, submitted a dispute with England over its role in providing the Confederacy with ships during the Civil War to a successful international arbitration, thereby setting a precedent for peaceful means of settling international disputes, oversaw the first Justice Department, which was active in prosecuting civil rights violations in the South, and much more. His work on civil rights was probably the greatest of any President until Lyndon B. Johnson. A modest and generally taciturn man, he was popular enough to be elected to two terms (and almost got nominated for a third) and was the first since Andrew Jackson to serve through both of them. After his presidency, he went on a round-the-world trip, where he engaged in diplomacy, setting yet another precedent for future presidents.

I was glad to see Chernow's definitive account of Grant's drinking problem--he was an intermittent binge drinker but only when his wife wasn't around and he was bored. It never affected his conduct of the Civil War or his presidency. He'd pretty much conquered the problem by later life.

Movie rights have been purchased--how this man's fascinating life can be boiled down to 2-3 hours is beyond me, but I'm hoping the film people will succeed. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

f
FairhavenLibe
Jan 02, 2018

A beautiful book in every way, from Chernow's adept writing to the bookbinding. A total pleasure from start to finish.

c
cydpaiva
Dec 10, 2017

One of NYT best books of 2017

b
bookerfree
Nov 26, 2017

Having read Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs (The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, which should be one of the finest books you'll ever hope to read), Chernow's biography fills-in a lot of gaps about his life and times not covered by Grant himself. For example, one glaring aspect missing from Grant's memoirs: his drinking problem. Here Chernow keeps tabs throughout the book with sturdy research and a more modern, sharpened discrimination, offering the most honest appraisal to date of Grant's battle and ultimate victory over his, and some say mankind’s most foolish weakness. Without this victory, the course of world events and the map and history of the United States would greatly differ. But that is but one clever glimpse of the man as portrayed by Chernow. Grant, as a person - one of the finest soldiers and perhaps the greatest general the world has ever seen (“unmatched military genius” is the phrase proffered by many military historians) - is studiously and frankly portrayed, offering appropriate 19th century sensibilities reflected through the prism of the 21st century.

i
IanS_Librarian
Aug 21, 2017

Chernow delivers another solid biography. I was a big fan of his Hamilton biography because he gives you a solid sense of the subject's personality and drive. I really got to know more about Grant before his Civil War successes and the challenges he faced during Reconstruction. I also identified similarities between his personality and my own, giving me a greater sense of my own self. Maybe that's the highest compliment you can give a biography, when it breathes life into someone long gone and helps us understand folks that are still with us today.

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